Thumb or finger sucking is a natural reflex for children that can help them feel calm and safe in the world. In fact, finger sucking can be seen in the womb during development. And while thumb sucking is a perfectly normal soothing mechanism for infants, there can be significant dental consequences if thumb sucking is allowed to continue as a child becomes a toddler and older.
Why is thumb sucking harmful?
According to the American Dental Association, thumb sucking should be discouraged by age 4, or before a child goes to preschool. Why? Children that don’t break the habit of sucking their thumb or fingers by age 5 or 6 are at risk of damaging their permanent teeth as they come in.
The sucking motion and pressure can cause the child’s mouth to develop abnormally, leading to issues with proper teeth alignment, including the front teeth jutting out or issues with the top and bottom teeth not coming together properly when their mouth is closed.
How can I stop my child from thumb sucking?
Identify the cause.
One of the primary reasons children suck their thumbs is for security and comfort, and children that have broken the habit can return to it in times of stress. One of the best ways to deter thumb sucking is to identify and focus on eliminating the cause of insecurity in their life. Provide comfort in other ways such as a stuffed animal, a hug, or comforting words.
Use positive reinforcement.
Never punish a child for thumb sucking — that could only exacerbate the problem if they’re feeling insecure. Praise your child for good behavior, and if your child is old enough, involve him or her in a reward system to break the habit. Rewards could include things like a special outing or an extra story at bedtime. For some children, a calendar with stickers that indicate days without thumb sucking works well.
Visit the dentist.
If you’re concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, check with the dentist. Sometimes, instruction from the dentist helps for children who haven’t wanted to listen to mom and dad. A dentist is trained to explain the consequences of thumb sucking in a way that children can understand.
Catching and stopping thumb sucking early is the key to preventing long-term damage to a child’s mouth and permanent teeth. If your child is thumb sucking in their 3s, 4s or beyond, contact us to set up an appointment to talk about how we can help.